I don’t know about you, but I’ve lost my ability to give a shit about death in comics, because it feels like these days death in comics is used as a sales tool.
What does it say about the cynicism of comic book readers when something drastic changes in the current status quo, for example the death of Professor X, and rather than being shocked and surprised, we’re wondering whether he’ll be back next issue or if it’ll take a couple years before he crawls out of the afterlife.
I had only just started to follow the X-Men for the first time in a decade just before AvX, having stopped shortly after House of M, so as far as I knew Xavier was still dead. Imagine my lack of surprise when he’s back alive again. At least until the end of the Avengers Vs X-Men story, anyway, but I’m sure he’ll be back at some point.
It used to be said that the only people who stay dead in comics are Uncle Ben, Jason Todd and Bucky Barnes. In the last ten years, two of those have come back to life – albeit in very successful and interesting ways. Do those resurrection negate the impact of the character’s death in the first place, insulting our long held belief that those deaths meant something to the heroes we followed for decades, or should we treat read each story as a separate entity, appreciating the intended emotional payoff from each death without allowing our cynicism of the eventual resurrection to taint that?
I finally realized how little trust I put in a Marvel character’s death when the Death Of Wolverine arc was announced, because even though his death was plainly advertised, I was fully expecting it not to stick – although it kind of has.
Wolverine is still dead, which is a good thing, but then we do have Old Man Logan, an older version of Wolverine from an alternate future, running around on his walker, so is Wolverine actually dead? Before you bring up the new Wolverine, Laura Kinney, I don’t count that as a cheap replacement; she’s a legacy hero who has taken up the original Wolverine’s mantle (and has come a long way since her introduction as a female clone of Wolverine). The same can also be said for Jean Grey. Yes, “our” Jean Grey is still dead (ten years and counting – which is a long time for Marvel to leave a popular character in the grave, but the teenage version of Jean Grey from the past is now in the future, so again, can we still claim Jean is dead?
Marvel’s track record with death hasn’t exactly given fans a reason to believe that sooner or later the dead character will return.
So when a certain character (I won’t say who, but I’m sure you’ve seen him in a movie or three) was killed in an issue ofCivil War II, one of the first reactions I heard was “and how are they going to reverse this, now?” The character’s death was immediately ignored, as the audience had little faith in Marvel’s intention to keep one of their more well known characters in the ground. We all know that said hero will return eventually, so why bother caring?
The last death I truly believed would be lasting was Colossus. When the Russian mutant to cure the Legacy Virus in Uncanny X-Men #392 it was perhaps one of the most impactful character deaths I had experienced. Of course he’s alive again now, but that issue still resonates with me. Perhaps because at the time I hadn’t developed the natural cynicism that many comic book fans have developed over years reading comics, and instead was able to experience the death as a genuinely moving story moment.
That was also the last comic book death from either Marvel or DC where I actually believed the character would stay dead.
Cynical? Yep. But it’s a cynicism taught to us by the Big Two’s treatment of dead characters, and the heroes that take up their mantle. When Batman died a few years ago Dick Grayson became the next Batman, and had a critically successful run (I’m not too sure on the sales numbers for Bruce’s Batman when he was still living verses Dick’s, but Dick’s Batman was an absolutely brilliant read), but in what I can only imagine being an attempt at grabbing mainstream news media headlines with Batman’s death, even though Bruce Wayne would return within a couple of years. Granted if memory serves the intention was always to bring Bruce back eventually. Contrast that death to a certain Batman ally who’s recent death has been reverberating through many of the Bat-family comics this past month, except this time the audience knows about the eventual resurrection because the character isn’t actually dead (that’s not a spoiler for the comic, the death and reveal happened within pages of each other), and will likely play a part in a much larger story that DC are weaving.
The Big two have given us no reason to accept a major character’s death as the new status quo, because we’ve come to expect that eventually those characters will return to life. Until that changes, when one of those characters dies, their death will never mean anything in comics.